Sunday, April 19, 2009

Visting Chew Joo Chiat's grave

I visited Chew Joo Chiat's grave on Saturday 11 April 2009 morning. Together with me were my uncle and his son, and a female cousin from another Chew family. My uncle was familiar with the location of my great grand-father's grave for he visited the grave annually like a pilgrimage. Our visit that day was still within the Qing Ming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival). The burial ground is known as Bukit Brown Cemetery and it is more than one hundred years old. Many graves there have been neglected and in very bad shape. Some were completely covered by overgrown vegetations. I am very glad that my uncle and his family was the only Chew's descendants maintaining his grave. If not for him I was not able to see my great grandfather's grave.

It would be quite a task to find Chew Joo Chiat's grave without the direction of my uncle and his son. The ground was wet, soggy and slippery due to the heavy downpour the day before. Following the well trodden track was easy except to watch out for the muddy water while meandering our way carefully to the site. From the open track we turned right towards the overgrown vegetations and made our way the site. It reminded me of my school days as a boy scout when I had to depend on a compass to hike through thick bushes and overgrowth to reach my destination. Once through the barrier of overgrown vegetations Chew Joo Chiat's grave appeared before us. It was a double tomb grave. One tomb contained the body of Chew Joo Chiat and the other which is still empty was for his peranakan wife. I was told that she was buried at another cemetery.

I examined my great grandfather's tombstone and found the Chinese characters inscribed on it were still legible. It had the names of his 2 sons, 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren. In the book 'Joo Chiat a living legacy' Chew's grandson Lee Beow Guan stated that he had 6 sons and 4 daughters. The number of Chew's children with their names on the tombstone showed that Lee's memory had failed him.
I looked at my great grand-father's tomb and wandered how he came from China to Singapore as a pauper and died a millionaire. My imagination went back to the year 1877 when he arrived here as a 20 year old young man without a penny to his name. But later he became very wealthy owning property, coconut and rubber plantations in various parts of Singapore. According to records, he was also a major share holder of 2 banks (Pacific Bank & Batu Pahat Bank) and two tin mining companies in Malaya (now Malaysia) and presided at their meetings. He died on 5th February 1926.

Dirt track to Chew Joo Chiat's grave

Going through the overgrown vegetations

Offering prayer and burning joss papers

A photo for souvenir

A double tomb grave

Empty tomb of Chew Joo Chiat's peranakan wife

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Joo Chiat Railway Line

                                                Map provided by Mok Ly Yng.

                                                    Joo Chiat Railway Line

As a school boy I like to play at the disused railway track between Joo Chiat Place and Joo Chiat Terrace. I balanced myself on the metal rail and walked as far as I could to test my ability. Sometimes I competed with my friends for fun. The railway line came from Tanjong Katong and cut through Joo Chiat. I remember there were road crossings gates at Joo Chiat Road, Tembeling Road and Joo Chiat Place. After the war all the road crossings together with most of the railway tracks were removed. Today not a single trace is left.

The history of Joo Chiat railway line is connected to the construction of Kallang Aerodrome in 1932. Kallang basin then was a huge tidal swamp and needed to be reclaimed. A railway line for a light train was constructed from the proposed aerodrome to Jalan Eunos earth quarry. Earth was transported in rectangular open buckets from the earth quarry to Kallang Basin swamp.

                                 Chinese coolies excavating earth from the hillsides

                                  Train carrying earth near excavating site
Level crossing gates were put up at all the roads where the train crossed. In Joo Chiat there were 3 road crossings. They were at Joo Chiat Road, Tembeling Road and Joo Chiat Place. The land reclamation at Kallang Basin took about 4 years (1932 to 1936) to complete. For the railway line that crossed Joo Chiat, it was mission accomplished.

The Straits Times 8 March 1933 reported: His Excellency (Sir Shenton Thomas Governor of Singapore) boarded one of the ordinary locomotives and rode on the footplate to Jalan Eunos quarry.

Accidents at railway line level crossings
The newspapers had regular advertisements cautioning the public on the level crossings. Inspite of the warnings there were accidents thereat and some were quite serious including death.

The Straits Times 18 October 1933 An Indian contractor Mariappan Ombris was knocked down by a light railway train at the level crossing in Joo Chiat Road. Both his legs were severed and he had severe head injuries. He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he died a few hours later.

The Straits Times 3 May 1934 OnTuesday morning a lorry laden with bricks crashed into the gates of Grove Road level crossings as they were being lowered ..............

The Straits Times 16 June 1934 The fatal level crossing smashed on the Tanjong Katong Road on the night of May 22 had a sequel yesterday when the driver of a lorry which was said to have gone through the gates at 'terrible speed' was brought up in the Fourth Magistrate Court.

During the Second World War, a bungalow and the railway track behind the shophouses at Joo Chiat Place nearby Everitt Road was destroyed by a Japanese bomb. The bombed site is now part of Legenda JC condominium

Background building facing Joo Chiat Road was a vacant land where the railway line came to Joo Chiat from Tanjong Katong.

At Joo Chiat Lane above the railway line was on the left side of the road.

The line cut across Tembling Road to the opposite side of Joo Chiat Lane. About 100 meters from the junction it turned left towards Joo Chiat Place/Everitt Road juntion.

Behind the yellow building was the bombed site of a bungalow and the railway line.

The railway line cut across Joo Chiat Place to the opposite side of Everitt Road which was then a vacant land.